Forget the Tether Controversy – Focus on the Rapid Progress in Blockchain Applications

Oli Weiss

Following the much anticipated ‘Tangle in Taipei’, in which renowned economist and long-time opponent of cryptoassets Nouriel Roubini faced-off against crypto entrepreneur Arthur Hayes, fresh attention has come to the arguments for and against cryptocurrencies and their applications.

Especially controversial has been the rise of Tether and other so-called stablecoins, which economists such as Roubini see as little more than tools to manipulate Bitcoin’s price.

Troubling for those closer to the Arthur Hayes side of the argument, regulators may be starting to wake up to this possibility, as evidenced by the case bought by the New York Attorney General’s Office against Bitfinex and Tether.

Two things matter in this affair:

Firstly, the complex technical and legal issues involved in the case are unlikely to be definitively settled any time soon, although the outcome may be significant in setting something of a precedent as regulators, investors, exchanges, etc all simultaneously try to come to terms with the possibilities of the new tech.

Secondly, and more importantly, the focus on Tether and other stablecoins has obscured what is really significant in the crypto world right now – blockchain adoption and innovation may be getting close to critical mass.

When considered that traditional or incumbent firms as diverse as Jaguar, Nike, IBM and Kodak are all experimenting in various ways with the technology, the problems raised by Roubini over volatility and lack of price transparency start to seem peripheral compared with the panoply of possibilities represented by blockchain tech.

Big Names Getting into Crypto

More information supporting this view was unveiled recently at Fortune’s ‘Brainstorm Finance’ conference held in Montauk, N.Y., where both IBM and JP Morgan (working with Microsoft) were keen to stress the progress made in their own blockchain projects.

The JP Morgan and Microsoft tie-up is particularly exciting, given the obvious synergies to be had from one of the largest banks in the world teaming up with the software company who gave the world the operating system both personal and business computing would be unimaginable without.

While the project initially aims at facilitating blockchain applications via Micorsoft’s Azure cloud computing platform to make various ‘back-of-house’ business functions more efficient (such as storing and managing customer; supply-chain; financial; HR; and other business data), blockchain program lead at JP Morgan, Christine Moy, made clear at ‘Brainstorm Finance’ the end goal is so much more ambitious.

Although concrete detail was lacking, Moy claims JP Morgan Chase is already partnering with commercial and even central banks to explore what she calls “the tokenization of central-bank risk-level money”.

Needless-to-say, the reach and implications of such a project would be huge, and it’s unlikely to move further or faster without significant regulatory involvement, but the confidence of JP Morgan and other big firms who have finally woken up to the value of the underlying tech is deeply impressive.

JP Morgan has already earned itself something of a reputation for being a ‘first mover’ in this field, and lots set to reap the rewards over the coming years. JP Morgan reports it’s second quarter earnings tomorrow, and most analysts expect revenues to be slightly up on this time last year.